Spiny Norman wrote:What method(s) do you use to develop insight into anatta? I'm particulary interested in hearing about "direct" methods, rather than indirect methods like contemplating anicca. I've been working with the 6 elements recently, but I'm not sure whether that qualifies as direct.
I'm familiar with what the suttas say, here I am more interested in your practical experience, what you actually do. Thanks.
Based on hindsight insight with my passions, I go about contemplating not-self by contemplating what is, in effect, kamma.
It so happened that I have found myself very much attracted to some film and tv stars, and fashion models. Not simply in an easy way, but very intensely, troublesome. There was this intense sense "Oh, this is such a wonderful person, so beautiful, so smart, so capable!" and it seemed that it is that person who radiates those qualities and is the source of them. I felt overwhelmed, defeated, stupid, worthless - it seemed they are so much, they have so much, and I am nothing, I have nothing to compete with them.
Then I tried to rid myself of that attraction and confusion, because it was really stupid and took a lot of time, not to mention it was embarrassing.
I intently looked at fashion photographs, looked at photos of actors on the internet, in the hopes to find some clue. And I did: it occured to me that a fashion photograph is actually the result of the joint efforts of many many people - the stylist, the make-up artist, the clothes designer, the set designer, the technicians who build the scenery and set the lights and everything, the photographer, the editor; the input of the actual model or actor is quite minor, even though in the end, it seems like we see only him or her in the picture.
It was especially enlightening to see those same models or actors in ordinary photos, in broad daylight. Without the efforts of the stylists etc., these models or actors don't seem like sources of brilliant qualities anymore.
So even though one's ordinary tendency may be to see certain qualities as belonging to a particular person, and then having a sense of "this is who this person is", already a casual analytical look at the situation is enough to discern how those things that one would ordinarly think as that person or theirs, aren't so anymore.
In a similar manner, I reflect also in general on how interconnected the actions of living beings are. For example, at first, I may be impressed with a scholar, thinking "He is such a great person!" and having a sense that this person exists as a uniform, solid entity. But once I start thinking of all the things that were necessary for him to become that way - he had to have great teachers (who also had great teachers), he was fortunate enough that nobody has caused him any major harm (even though so many other people are not so fortunate), he currently has people who support and encourage him, and last but not least, his pediatrician is to be thanked that he didn't prescribe some dangerous medication early on that could ruin him for life. Then there are all those people who have provided food for him, shelter, etc. etc. so that he didn't die as an infant. And so on, the list of those that one person is indebted to is enormous.
Once I start thinking, in real life terms, what it takes for a person to become what they now seem to be, including myself, this takes the edge off of thinking "This that person, this is who they really are" or "I am this, this is who I am."
All these are kind of no-brainers, but at times of overwhelm, they are the last thing I would think of.